How do you pick the best VPN for you?
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A VPN?
Let's go over what a VPN is and why you might want to use one. A VPN service is a tool that encrypts your internet connection from your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
This is especially important when using a public Wi-Fi hotspot, where your transmissions could otherwise be open and unencrypted, making them vulnerable to interception. A secure tunnel is created between your device and a VPN server located somewhere on the internet when you run VPN client software on your device.
Note: This secures your connection to that remote location on the internet. It does not secure your connection from that VPN server to your internet destination server.
Some people also use a VPN to hide their IP address and origin location. This could be done for very good reasons, such as ensuring that you can safely access the internet without revealing your location to a stalker or other predator. However, it can also be used to deceive your location in order to gain access to content that isn't normally available in your area, such as video or sports programming. In many places, doing so is illegal. Unfortunately, many VPN providers actively encourage this behaviour, with some even designating specific servers as being specifically optimised for illegal streaming (although
they tend to conveniently leave out the word 'illegal').
HOW DO VPNS DIFFERENTIATE THEMSELVES?
VPN services use a variety of criteria to differentiate themselves from one another. These are some of them:
- Periods of trial
- The number of distinct IP addresses
- Count of servers
- The number of countries that are unique
- Number of concurrent connections
- Apps and devices
- Jurisdiction and logging
- Price of a kill switch
Depending on your specific needs, each of these may play a smaller or larger role in your purchase decision. Let's take a look at what really matters.
A FREE TRIAL IS AVAILABLE FOR A LIMITED TIME.
The length of the trial period is the single most important factor to consider when choosing a VPN service. This is sometimes a period during which you can use the service without being charged, or a period during which you can use the service and request a refund.
In any case, this is the amount of time you have to figure out if the service is right for you.
If you only remember one thing from this article, remember this: don't buy a VPN service until you've thoroughly tested it and confirmed it meets your needs. The corollary to that tip is to make sure you choose a VPN service with a long enough trial period to fully test the VPN you're buying.
You can only truly know if a VPN is right for you if you put it to the test. That's why the trial period is so important, and why we prefer VPN services with longer trial periods when recommending them.
SUPPORT FOR DEVICES AND VPN APPLICATIONS
Client software for Macs, Windows PCs, Android phones, and iOS devices is available for almost all VPN services. Client software for Linux users is available from many, but not all. In addition, some set-top boxes and routers have client capabilities.
You might want a VPN service that works with your home router if you want all of your outgoing and incoming traffic to go through the VPN (for example, to hide from an ISP that might otherwise serve you customised ads now that net neutrality has been repealed).
However, once you've moved away from the main four platforms, support can be spotty and may necessitate a high level of technical expertise. You may need to install additional software, change settings, or modify conf files, among other things.
Through their apps, some VPNs provide more than just basic VPN services. Some include extra security features. To determine which add-on features might meet your needs, you'll need to look at each VPN provider's offering.
You haven't seen anything yet if you think Mac vs. PC or Kirk vs. Picard will start a religious war. If you get a bunch of protocol nerds debating which VPN protocol is the best, you're going to get some fur flying.
Some communication protocols, in fact, provide more security and protection than others. Some of them are older and have been hacked. In general, VPN providers provide customers with protocols that are reasonably secure, and you can usually rely on the default protocol provided.
If you're a VPN nerd or genuinely concerned about being tracked, an article like this won't help you. You'll need to conduct extensive research into the various protocols before making a decision based on your individual requirements. you're a VPN nerd or genuinely concerned about being tracked, an article like this won't help you. You'll need to conduct extensive research into the various protocols before making a decision based on your individual requirements.
My advice is that if you're using VPNs to protect yourself from a life-threatening threat, you'll need to do a lot more research than one article can provide. In fact, you'll probably want to create some of your own tunnelling in addition to using a commercial VPN service.
To put it another way, if you're fleeing a nation-state assassination squad, a three-dollar-per-month VPN service shouldn't be your first line of defence.
JURISDICTION AND LOGGING
VPN providers usually keep track of two types of information. Basic connection and billing information, as well as detailed surfing information.
You don't want to sign up with a VPN provider that keeps detailed logs of your online activities. People are usually concerned because the availability of logs means that the government can request surfing data, but there's also the risk that companies that log this data will sell it for marketing purposes.
Of course, just because a vendor says it doesn't log doesn't mean it actually does. In fact, I have yet to come across a single VPN provider that has been independently audited by a reputable verification organisation. As a result, you must rely solely on what each VPN provider claims.
'Okay, if you can't trust them, should this even be a criterion for selecting a VPN?' one of my editors wondered. To begin with, it's not that you can't trust VPN providers; it's that claims aren't independently verified. Many VPN providers have a large number of happy customers. Do some research on the company you're thinking about. If you come across a lot of user bile or security rants, you should probably look for another vendor.
The answer is yes to the question of whether jurisdiction and logging should be used as selection criteria. It's just that I'm not the only one. Certainly consider it in your decision, but there are likely other factors to consider as well.
Basic login and connection information is also logged by VPN providers. This includes information such as how they will bill you or performance data that will allow them to fine-tune their network. This is typical logging data and should be expected.
Some VPN providers operate in countries with strict disclosure and logging regulations. VPN experts frequently advise against doing business with companies based in countries (such as the United States) where the government has legal disclosure laws. That, once again, is dependent on how serious you are about obscuring your footprints.
SPEED OF VPN
Every VPN provider claims to be the fastest in the world if you look online. Some point to ostensibly independent laboratory reports. The results of using SpeedTest.net have been cited by some. Others are on tech websites, where lab tests allegedly show that some VPN services perform better than others.
It's from my office in Oregon that I conduct my speed tests. Everything I do goes through my local ISP, which is likely to differ from what goes through yours. My tests are obviously rudimentary.
We could theoretically be more precise if we set up VPN endpoints all over the world and then ran automated, regular tests. Yes, we could gain a better understanding of how VPNs work. Even so, the performance will be fundamentally unrelated to your requirements.
The reason for this is that no one's speed tests can duplicate your exact situation. Yes, speed tests performed by reviewers like me can give you a general idea of how well one service compares to another, but that's all it is. For example, I can tell you that one vendor takes longer than another to establish a VPN connection, or that one country appears to perform better with one VPN than another.
But here's where the trial period comes into play: You must put yourself to the test. You'll need to run your workloads through the VPN service you're testing, from your client machines in different locations to the servers you need to connect to — at the times you expect to be online. And you must figure out what works best for you by putting it to the test.
The cost should be the last consideration in your decision. It doesn't matter that a $3/month VPN service is cheaper than a $12/month service that performs better if it is unusable from your location to the destination server.
Choose a VPN based on the results of the performance tests I've suggested. To put it another way, pick a VPN based on how long you have to test it, and then test it.
Here's a tip to help you save money. Almost every VPN review site has an affiliate program (including ours). When you buy a VPN service after clicking a link on a website, a portion of your money goes back to the original site.
These are excellent ways for VPN providers and you to support the websites you visit. Unfortunately, because many VPN listings include deals, you can't always be sure that 'the best' VPNs are objectively the best. It's possible that they're the vendors who provide the best affiliate deals to the website that lists the deals. This is why the trial period is so important, as is doing your own testing.
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Here's how you can cut costs: Typically, these affiliate links provide a discount above and beyond the VPN vendor's own website's posted price. So, if you want to save money while also supporting your favorite websites, look into recommending sites. Occasionally, you'll come across a fantastic deal.